Upon hearing the news that in the Autumn Budget of last year George Osborne had announced a system of postgraduate loans, I kept a decidedly straight face. My initial reaction was to believe it when I saw it. That is how far my trust in this government (or to be honest any politician) has been whittled away over the years of broken promises and consciously ignoring the 18-24 age group. It does seem, however, that the government intends to go ahead with scheme because it sounds nice enough to pull in votes in the upcoming general election. The Labour party has also promised that, if they get in in May, they will implement the same scheme. However, this isn’t just a play for votes. It comes in response to the fact that the Research Council will no longer be funding master’s schemes unless they lead directly to a PhD (where money is also being cut). So without this new support package, the master’s would have to be wholly privately funded, leaving them open only to – and I hate to use this phrase – the economic elite.
Of course it’s not all fun and games: the scheme will not come into place until September 2016, leaving those who hoped to do their master’s in 2015 in a bit of a rut. Then the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) weighed in and said they would bridge the gap with £50 million of funding to UK universities, which the universities would then have to match. Things seemed to be looking up. In spite of this, the University has not yet released the funding package for the next academic year, which makes the future increasingly uncertain for people like me who hoped to continue on in Higher Education immediately after finishing their bachelor’s degree. It is also worth noting that the proposal will let students borrow up to £10,000 of government-backed loans, yet a quick flick through the postgraduate fees page of Lancaster University (and bearing in mind they differ greatly at each institution) shows that many of the fees for taught courses exceed £10,000, so the students will have to make up the rest of the money privately or with expensive bank loans. Interestingly enough, many of the so-called ‘STEM’ subjects that this government won’t stop banging on about fall into this more expensive category.
I am not the only one with worries and concerns about the new proposals. LUSU president Laura Clayson wrote an extremely articulate piece for the LUSU website, “On Postgraduate Funding”, about her thoughts on the new system. The article you are reading had started out as a scathing reply to Clayson’s piece but, I have to say, I seem to agree with most of what she said. This new financial support will still leave students under a heavy economic burden, in an environment where most young people are already worrying about debt, interest rates, how to afford their rent (and sometimes even their food). This article is not the place to go into all the economic hardships facing young people today, but suffice it to say that many people are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. As Clayson asks, why does the government not invest in the country’s future, make higher education free altogether (or certainly a lot cheaper), so that young people have more to give back to the economy?
As Clayson’s article suggests, it is not only young people who are going to be affected. There is speculation that this funding will only be available to potential master’s students who are under the age of 30. This leaves mature students, and those hoping to go back to university to retrain for a new career, up the Orinoco without a paddle as it were. In spite of sounding a little bit like a spoilt child, it’s just not fair.
The gripe over postgraduate funding is not a new one, with report after report coming out with the same view: postgraduate funding is woefully inadequate. It is not bridging the gap, and as a result it is putting off many talented, but perhaps less well off, students.